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what is family violence?

Family violence is:

Any abusive behaviour that is used to control someone in a family, family-like or intimate relationship, and makes that person afraid for their safety and wellbeing or the safety of another person.

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, family violence also includes violence perpetrated in the community and outside relationships and family.

abusive behaviour:

Abusive behaviour is behaviour that violates your sense of safety and seeks to control and manipulate you. This behaviour is family violence and is a breach of the law and your human rights.

  • A pattern of abusive behaviours and tactics used to gain power and control over someone. It underpins all family and intimate partner violence and can involve all of the things listed below. We talk more about coercive control in the next section.

  • Yelling, standing over you, threatening you or damaging your property and belongings.

  • Creating situations where it’s hard for you to see your friends and family, alienating you and restricting you socially.

  • Talking down to you, name calling, belittling you and embarrassing and humiliating you.

  • Causing physical harm and assault to you, your children and your pets or animals.

  • Reproductive coercion like forced abortion, pregnancy or sterilisation or withholding or forcing contraception.

  • The neglect, abuse or harm of pets or animals.

  • Controlling access to money or abusing your money and credit.

  • Enforcing their spiritual beliefs on you or withholding you from participating in your spiritual beliefs or religion.

  • Looking at your phone and emails, showing up unannounced at your location or contacting your work or friends.

  • Forcing you or coercing you into sexual acts without your consent.

  • Withholding information or your ability to connect to immigration information and services or putting you or your children’s visa status in jeopardy as a means to control you.

coercive control:

Controlling behaviour is how an abusive person gains and maintains power over someone else. Controlling behaviour usually starts slowly and isn’t always obvious. The perpetrator may try to justify their actions by saying they are concerned for you or care about you too much.

Controlling behaviour tends to become more overt and aggressive over time. Coercive control involves a cycle of manipulation including punishment. It always results in the person feeling unsafe as fear is instilled, there is often an erosion of ‘self’, ‘identity’ and autonomy whereby they are entrapped in a situation where avenues to access safety and support are closed off.


Here are some tactics of coercive control:

  • Monitoring your activity.
  • Denying you freedom and autonomy.
  • Gaslighting (a form or manipulation where the perpetrator makes you doubt your own truth).
  • Turning your children against you.
  • Controlling aspects of your health and your body.
  • Making jealous accusations about the time you spend with family or friends.
  • Regulating your sexual relationship.
  • Threatening your children or pets as an extreme form of intimidation.

abuse of aboriginal and torres strait islander peoples can look like:

  • Restricting access to culture, country, language and Elders
  • Intimidation, and emotional abuse which is racist in nature
  • Alienation or isolation from kinship networks and community
  • Removal from country
  • Elder abuse
  • Lateral violence

Dhelk Dja

Dhelk Dja: Safe our way – strong culture, strong peoples, strong families definition of family violence. Dhelk Dja describes family violence as an issue focused around a wide range of physical, emotional, sexual, social, spiritual, cultural, psychological and economic and legal abuses that occur within families, intimate relationships, extended families, kinship networks and communities. It extends to one-on-one fighting, abuse of Aboriginal community workers as well as self-harm, injury and suicide.

The Dhelk Dja definition also acknowledges the impact of violence by non-Aboriginal people against Aboriginal partners, children, young people, extended family on spiritual and cultural rights, which may manifest as exclusion or isolation from Aboriginal culture and/or community. Elder abuse and the use of lateral violence within Aboriginal communities are also within scope.

What is Dhelk Dja?
Dhelk Dja is the key Aboriginal-led Victorian Agreement that commits Aboriginal communities, Aboriginal services and government to work together and be accountable for ensuring that Aboriginal people, families and communities are stronger, safer, thriving and living free from family violence.

abuse of youth and young people

Youth and young people are children and individuals aged 15 – 25 years. Abuse can be perpetrated by a parent, step-parent, sibling, extended family member, boyfriend or girlfriend, partner, intimate partner/situation-ship.

Abuse of a young person can look like:

  • Attending all appointments and speaking for or over the top of you
  • Frequently being forced to keep secrets
  • Tech facilitated abuse such as posting intimate photos, blackmail, bullying and name calling, posting on social media threatening you or themselves
  • Forcing you to get involved in arguments that don’t include you (parent to parent, your partner and an argument with someone else)
  • Using you to monitor someone else (check calls and text messages, tell them someone else’s appointments and personal movements)
  • Stopping you from seeing your friends or convincing you your family members are against you
  • Always give you gifts, nice meals, fun activities after they have done something wrong
  • Giving your siblings money but not you
  • Being forced to look after siblings after abuse/violence

abuse of lgbtiqa+ peoples can look like:

  • Using homophobia, lesbophobia, biphobia, transphobia, interphobia, and/or queerphobia as a means to assert power and control over you
  • Revealing or threatening to reveal your sexual or gender identity, ‘dead-name’ or birth-assigned sex to others
  • Revealing or threatening to reveal your HIV status to others
  • Withholding finances for medical services or items for expressing your gender identity
  • Focusing on features associated with your birth-assigned sex and saying that being transgender isn’t being a ‘real’ woman or man
  • Targeting of your gendered body features during violence

abuse of people with a disability can look like:

A person with disability may experience violence from an intimate partner, family member – like adult child. Non-related carers can commit family violence if they are in a family-like relationship with the person with disability. This could also include paid carers (in either home-based or in a residential setting), support staff, service providers, medical and transport staff (such as taxi drivers) or co-residents in disability services who have a ‘family-like’ relationship with the victim.

People with disability may experience violence similarly to people who are older as well as:

  • Interfering with disability specific, or every day support needs (canceling appointments with specialist supports; withdrawing care or equipment to immobilise a person, refusing to use or destroy communication devices)
  • Medical abuse (using medication to sedate a person for agency convenience; under or over prescribing medication; forcing/withholding medication)
  • Disability related financial abuse (mismanaging NDIS funding; inappropriately accessing carer payments; limiting access to financial information; abuse of power of attorney)
  • Reproductive coercion (forced abortion, pregnancy or sterilisation; withholding or forcing contraception)
  • Restrictive practices (obstructing hallways; moving items around the house)
  • Caregiver privilege (treating a person as a child or servant; giving an opinion as if it were the persons opinion; denying the right to privacy; ignoring, discouraging, or prohibiting the exercise of full capabilities; providing care in a way that accentuates the person’s dependence and vulnerability)

abuse of culturally and linguistically diverse peoples can look like:

  • Withholding access to information, education and services like learning local language, health services and knowing their rights under Australian Law
  • Threatening deportation if the police become involved
  • Withholding documentation, finances or controlling VISA status
  • Threats of shame and dishonour to family
  • Exacerbating tenuous relationships with police or authority
  • Isolating and alienating from community and elders or supports, as well as religious or spiritual practice

Abuse of an elder or older person can look like:

Elder abuse is defined as any act occurring within a family-like (including unpaid carer) relationship where there is an implication of trust, which results in harm to an older person.

  • control or limiting of service supports that assist with daily living
  • financial exploitation, control of finances, limiting financial independence
  • control of medication (withholding, over-medicating or under-medicating)
  • restricting access to mobility aids
  • neglecting needs (food, hygiene, transportation to appointments)
  • threats relating to housing arrangements or relocation to residential care.
  • maliciously or unnecessarily applying for guardianship, medical or financial administration.
  • isolation from family or friends

Need advice or support

If you are concerned about yourself or someone you know, connect with a service or call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) for 24/7 confidential counselling and advice.
If you or someone you know is in danger, call triple zero, 000.

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